One of my favorite desserts is an incredibly simple recipe from Mollie Katzen. It’s a light fruit soup that calls for just a handful of ingredients: freshly squeezed orange juice, ripe berries, plain yogurt, a squeeze of lime juice, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The ingredients are simple enough that the whole thing sings when made with fresh, ripe ingredients…and falls flat when you even glance at storebought orange juice or anemic greenhouse strawberries.
As a culture, we’ve experienced a sort of gustatory amnesia about how good simple, fresh food tastes. We’ve been persuaded by food scientists, our own busy lives, and our love for convenience that packaged, processed food tastes good. But it doesn’t, not really. After cooking most of my own food for a few years, I recently ate a frozen dinner (ironically, one by Moosewood) and was appalled. I finished it, but felt queasy afterwards. Yet I’m sure that plenty of people who eat processed food on a more regular basis than I do would have been fine with it, maybe even enjoyed it.
My mother loves fruit trees, so even in our small suburban yard, I grew up with the taste of tart-sweet raspberries eaten straight off the vine, pink-blushed apricots, fuzzy and still warm from the sun, and glossy mahogany plums so sweet that biting into them was a religious experience. I no longer have a yard, but I still remember how food should taste. And so, after a brief hiatus during college in which I ate mostly processed junk, I’m back to making a good deal of my own food and being amazed at how satisfying fresh, made-from-scratch food is — not just the taste, but also the process of making it.
This weekend I made bread. It was a sunny Saturday morning on which I had nowhere particular to be, so during long, slow risings, I read a book, drank my tea, and played with the cat. The kneading was rhythmical and soothing, and the smells of yeast, flour, honey, and sunshine became their own wordless poem. And the bread, eaten warm with a generous dollop of homemade marmalade, was delicious. Not because it was awesome bread, made with utmost skill and proficiency, but because it was fresh, and I made it.
This is my challenge to myself for the next year: every month, I’m going to try making something new from scratch I usually buy. I want to take back my food from the food corporations and get away from plastic packaging. I’m thinking I’d like to tackle canning my own tomato sauce, making my own granola bars, folding my own veggie potstickers, among other things. Want to join me?